Northwest bike tour, by the numbers

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A numerical review of my bike tour, with apologies to Harper’s Index

Number of days spent biking around the Northwest in Aug-Sept 2014: 19

Distance pedaled and elevation climbed by day, according to

The Seattle-Vancouver loop:
Day 1 = 13 miles Seattle Gasworks Park to Shoreline WA, climbed 745 feet
Day 2 = 65 miles from Shoreline to Deception Pass State Park, 3384 feet (plus 1 ferry ride)
Day 3 = 64 miles from Deception Pass to Birch Bay State Park, 2689 feet
Day 4 = 31 miles from Birch Bay to Tsawassen, British Columbia, 856 feet
Day 5 = 50 miles from Vancouver to Sequim Bay State Park WA, 2040 feet (plus 2 ferry rides)
Day 6 = 58 miles from Sequim Bay to Seattle, 3800 feet (plus 1 ferry ride)
Day 7 = rest

The Portland-Oregon Coast loop:
Day 8 = 10 miles around Seattle and Portland OR (plus 1 train ride)
Day 9 = 52 miles from Portland to Longview WA, 1600 feet
Day 10 = 73 miles from Longview to Seaside OR, 3760 feet
Day 11 = 62 miles from Seaside to Cape Lookout State Park, 3865 feet
Day 12 = 61 miles from Cape Lookout to Beverly Beach State Park, 4132 feet
Day 13 = 55 miles from Beverly Beach to Corvallis, 4300 ft
Day 14 = rest (definitely got a Biblical theme going here)
Day 15 = 55 miles from Corvallis to Eugene, a very flat and mellow 610 feet
Day 16 = 20 miles around Eugene
Day 17 = 76 miles from Eugene to Salem, 2100 ft
Day 18 = 62 miles from Salem to Portland, 2000 ft
Day 19 = 20 miles around Portland and Seattle WA (plus 1 train ride)

Total distance pedaled, in miles: 827

Average distance pedaled per day, excluding rest days: 49

Total elevation climbed, in feet: 35,881

Total elevation climbed, in miles: 6.8

Average number of 24-ounce refillable bottles of water consumed per day: 5

Number of water bottles attached to bike: 3

Donuts and other bakery products consumed, estimated: 14

Bottles and cans of root beer consumed, estimated: 12

Calories burned during daily average 49-mile bike ride, according to MapMyRide: 3,000

Calories in a chocolate doughnut, according to Mighty-O: 330

Current age of out-of-shape cyclist: 49

Weight of said cyclist at beginning of trip, in pounds: 178

Weight of slightly more in-shape cyclist at end of trip, in pounds: 171

Pounds lost by happy cyclist during trip: 7

Miles pedaled per pound lost (while eating donuts and drinking root beer): 118

Pre-trip versus post-trip weight loss: 7 pounds
Pre-trip versus post-trip weight loss: 7 pounds

Biking makes me VERY hungry

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My goals for this bike trip are to have fun and lose weight. Well, at least I’m having fun. You’d think that riding 300 miles a week would automatically drop your weight. Think again, because that’s not the way it’s worked it, at least so far.

Pre-trip weight (left) vs. biking 300 miles (right).
What’s wrong? My pre-trip weight (left) vs. biking 300 miles in 1 week (right). 

BakeryEdisonWAI can’t quite figure out what’s gone wrong with my otherwise excellent bike-to-lose weight plan. Perhaps it had something to do with the aromatic Breadfarm Bakery in Edison, WA (population 133), which tempted me in the door with the scent of chocolate babka. Research shows that biking long distances heightens one’s sense of smell. I’m quite confident of that “fact.” And I also believe that the clerk must have stuck a cupcake in my bike bag when I wasn’t looking, too.

Or it might have been the sight of the “Monster Donut” at Rocket Donuts in Bellingham, WA. I wasn’t even hungry, but the huge rocket and mural on the side of this shop drew me in. Had to take a picture of the kids, I figured. Although I only ordered a regular-sized chocolate donut, the clerk kindly pulled out their giant donut for a photo opp, once again, for my kids. Just looking at this brute probably added a few pounds.


rootbeerIt could have had something to do with the root beer. At a restaurant in Victoria, one of my friends encouraged me to try Captain Electro’s Intergalactic Root Beer, a fascinating local blend from the Phillips Soda Company. The most attractive label that I’ve ever seen on bottle. My friend explained that the unique flavor was due to special ingredients that I don’t typically encounter in US stock, so upon my return I had to do some comparison tasting. For scientific purposes.


blackberriesOr maybe I could blame it on the blackberries, as there were hundreds of thousands of unharvested beauties for several miles along the Mud Bay, Vancouver bike trail. They also tended to pop up on the side of the road up really steep hills, and beckon me to get off my bike for a spell.

Yes, now that I’ve considered all of the possibilities, it’s definitely the blackberries. Will try to steer clear of those while biking around the Oregon coast for the next week or two.


Roaming Canadian Roads (without roaming charges)

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I love me some maps. Can’t leave home without ’em. So for my bike tour I sought out a replacement for the Google Maps app on my smartphone, since there are times when I cannot access a cellphone signal, or more commonly, would prefer not to pay roaming charges to my provider for venturing into Canada.

Screenshot of
Screenshot of

A $2 solution that solves my problem is the Maps.Me app (for iOS, Android, Blackberry). First, before leaving the land of Internet, the app allows you to freely download maps of entire states or provinces from OpenStreetMap, the user-contributed platform that rivals Google. Later, when wandering in rural or urban areas, turn on the Maps.Me app to find your location, zoom around, or search for place names. It relies on the GPS receiver in your device, which draws battery power but does NOT require an Internet connection. This tool couldn’t tell me where to find the best inexpensive sushi in Vancouver, but as long as I already had the street name (Davie Street between Granville and Seymour), I could find my way there and back. Absolutely delicious.


How I Fell in Love with Biking British Columbia

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Even the auto mall road has a bike lane in Surrey BC.
Even the auto mall has a bike lane.

I’ll do my best to avoid over-romanticizing my joy of cycling in British Columbia, but it’s no comparison to my home state of Connecticut, whose unofficial motto is “bike at your own risk.” While I only traveled about 60 miles through this Canadian province, mostly in the metropolitan Vancouver and Victoria regions, I was absolutely blown away by the bike-friendly green signs and painted lanes that greeted me nearly everywhere, through downtown streets, outlying suburbs, rural farm roads, and on the ramp up to the ferry. Even the busy commercial highway alongside the auto mall in Surrey BC had a designated bike lane.

As you’d expect, I saw far more bike riders here in British Columbia than back home in Connecticut, but what surprised me were the demographics. No hard data here, and my impressions could be shaped by times and locations where I rode, but BC women bikers appeared to outnumber men in my travels, both in urban commuter lanes and recreational trails. This pattern differs from the predominantly male riders I see around Hartford, Connecticut. Back home, I commonly hear women (and some men) say that they would ride their bikes more often around West Hartford if they felt safer around traffic. This experience makes me wonder about what could be possible. If anyone has read any studies on whether the gender composition of riders changes when local governments create bike-friendly routes, please tell us more by posting a comment.

A 3-tier BC water fountain.
A 3-tier water fountain.

In addition to my love affair with BC bike lanes, allow me to babble on for a moment about water fountains. I’m a thirsty rider who’s always on the lookout for a cold (and free) drink, so I tend to spot water bubblers, mentally note their location, and admire the better-quality models. But this was the first time that I’ve encountered a 3-tier fountain for refillable bottles, regular drinking, and a dog dish. Several of these models stood out along the Lochside regional bike trail in Victoria. Now I’m jealous of those Canadians (and you should be, too). Why don’t we have water fountains like these in Connecticut’s public parks or shopping areas like Blue Back Square? As State Senator Beth Bye reminds us, we waste a lot of money on shipping and purchasing bottled water. Sometimes you need to travel outside your hometown to reflect on how things could be different.

Not everything in British Columbia is beautiful. I intentionally took some photos of the ugliest scenes on my two-days of biking through the province. It seems that Canada has just as many billboards (or more) than the States, which makes some sections of the Lochside regional trail a bit unpleasant on the eyes.

Ugly billboards along Lochside bike trail and adjacent highway.
Ugly billboards along Lochside bike trail and adjacent highway.

And this truck I spotted outside a fancy home in BC is just wrong on so many levels. I’ll definitely be coming back to Connecticut soon.

How does a company with this logo stay in business?
How does a company with this name and tagline stay in business?


Connecting with BCCampus OpenEd Colleagues in Victoria

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While preparing to cross the border into Canada on my solo bike trip, I emailed the only person who I “sort of” knew in British Columbia and asked if he’d like a get together for lunch. The only problem was that I had never met this individual in person before, nor did I have any idea where he was located in the province. But hey, there’s only 4.6 million people in an area the size of California, and everyone knows that Canadians are so friendly, so how hard could it be to find this guy?

Clint, Brad, and Amanda at BCCampus in Victoria.
Clint, Brad, and Amanda at BCCampus in Victoria.

Thankfully, Brad Payne replied to my email and encouraged me to stop by his office, which happened to be located in downtown Victoria, BC, just a few blocks from my 3pm ferry ride back to the States. Turns out that he’s an avid biker, too. I corresponded with Brad several times over the past year due to our mutual interest in open-access digital publishing. Brad invited me to have lunch with him and two colleagues, Amanda Coolidge and Clint Lalonde, who work at BCCampus OpenEd. Together, they collaborate with faculty throughout the BC public higher ed system to create and adapt open-access textbooks for the most heavily enrolled courses, which means that students may read online or download for free, or purchase a print copy at low cost. Brad is a software developer who has made incredibly valuable contributions to PressBooks, the WordPress-based open-source code (developed by Hugh McGuire and colleagues in Montreal), which allows authors to easily publish books in multiple formats: online, PDF, EPUB, Kindle, etc. I’m a big fan of the PressBooks Textbook plugin that Brad developed, which makes this platform very suitable for all types of academic publishing, such as the scholarly edited volume that co-editor Tennyson O’Donnell and I completed just before my trip,  Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning (forthcoming from Michigan Publishing).

rootbeerWe had a great lunch and conversation about the BCCampus approach to open-access textbooks, their strategies for broadening faculty involvement, and their occasional need to “Canada-ize” materials (a new word for me) that were not originally designed for their student population. Given all of their youthful energy, I initially thought this was a “start-up” operation, but then learned that BCCampus has been producing open education resources for at least ten years, so am very impressed by their stability in the field. The BC crew invited me to meet up with them at the Open Education Resources annual conference in Washington DC in November 2014. And they also introduced me to the flavorful Phillips Intergalactic local root beer, which was other-worldly.

Raccoons Foiled at Sequim Bay State Park

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Hanging my food bags (and wet clothing) on the wire at Sequim Bay State Park.
Hanging my food bags (and wet clothing) on the wire at Sequim Bay State Park.

At Sequim Bay State Park, the clever park ranger has outwitted those rascally raccoons that bothered me at another Washington State Park a couple of nights ago. He explained that it wasn’t within his budget to buy fancy food lockers ($1400 each), so instead he strung wire between trees over campsites, about 8 feet above the ground, which he figured was “high enough so that kids don’t play on it” but low enough so that campers like me can hang a food bag on it. Worked like a charm. No hungry midnight visitors.

If you’re thinking about biking in this part of Washington State, definitely check out the Olympic Discovery Trail, which runs directly through Sequim Bay State Park, right up to three very nice biker/hiker sites for travelers who arrive on their own power. While a few sections are very steep, large portions of the ODT are great for families to walk or ride bikes with children. Here’s a quick video of a four-footed family that I encountered while biking into the Sequim region last evening.

What I’ve learned about bike camping

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Three days into this tour and I’ve learned that one of my favorite things about tent camping by bike in the Northwest during this time of year are conversations you strike up with friendly people along the way. It certainly helps that the weather is perfect: highs in the upper 70s, lows in the mid-50s, and virtually no chance of rain this week. (If it was raining, like Seattle experiences the rest of the year, this would really suck.)

Bike sites at Deception Pass State Park, WA.
Bike sites at Deception Pass State Park, WA.

When I pulled into Deception Pass State Park, WA, my smartphone had already told me that the regular campsites were nearly full, but I knew that they had 5 biker sites set aside for travelers on two wheels (and additional hiker sites for those arriving on foot). Here I met a trio of older Canadian women who happened to be cycling the same Vancouver-Victoria-Port Angeles loop as me, though in the opposite direction, and at a more relaxed pace. We compared travel notes for about a half-hour, then poured over my Adventure Cycling maps to help me get better oriented to biking into Vancouver, their home town, as well as Victoria, which isn’t on my map. While both of these cities are exceptionally bike-friendly, it turns out that the place where I’ll be staying on Wednesday night requires some creative thinking to avoid a tunnel that is not open to bicycles. Many thanks to the kindness of Canadian strangers for pointing me in the right direction.

But I have a tendency to mentally overcompensate in cross-cultural communication. You might think, “They’re Canadians, eh? What could go wrong?” No major faux paus, thank goodness, but lots of little ones in my mind. While speaking our conversations were occasionally drowned out by fighter jets taking off and landing at a nearby US naval base, and inside myself I was silently apologizing (“Sorry for the intrusive militarism on our otherwise friendly border”). When one of the Canadians asked me if I knew how cold it would get that night, I knew the answer but mentally stumbled around while trying to be diplomatic and attempting to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius in my head. (“Is it multiply by 5/9 and add 32? or the other way around?”)

Kids zipping around the campsite loops on bikes.
Kids zipping around the campsite loops on bikes.

Another personal favorite about riding into state parks is watching and hearing all of the kids have an absolutely fabulous time riding their bikes around the campsites. They’re just going in circles—first one direction, then the other, maybe followed by a game of chase, then another dozen circles—but that’s the simple joy of bike riding, with virtually no danger of being hit by a car. Considering how many kids grow up today in auto-oriented neighborhoods that may not be safe for biking, it’s wonderful to hear the freedom in their voices as they zip along the camp loops. Reminder to parents: if you want your kids to spend less time on computer screens, then get involved and advocate for safer bike routes in all of our communities.

But one downer that I learned last night in Birch Bay State Park, WA, at precisely 1:32am, was the sound of a raccoon clawing open the food bag on my bike pannier. Clever little rascals. I got lucky and chased the the critter away before it busted out my dried soup (yes, I too am tempted by the smell of masala lentil pilaf late at night), but I realized how this experience differs from car camping, where I usually put the food in the van overnight. Next time, should I move the food into the tent with me (I always heard this was a bad idea, especially if you’re around bears) — or hang it by a rope over a tree limb (which sounds like a great idea, if you happen to have a long rope, an ideal tree, and no squirrels). More lessons to learn on the bike trail.

Never ride on an empty stomach

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My pre-trip weight.
My pre-trip weight. Hope to see it drop.

Today marks my first full ride, and I’m aiming for 60+ miles up Whidbey Island with my fully-loaded bike. Thanks to my sister Ellen for hosting me in her home last night, just north of Seattle. Her husband Rob kindly cooked us a fabulous salmon dinner last night, and a delicious egg and cheese sandwich, which I enjoyed much more than the food on my ferry. But all of this good chow reminds me of one of the many reasons why I’m riding my bike for three weeks: I’m trying to lose weight. My pre-trip weigh-in on Ellen’s scale is 178.2 pounds. Stay tuned for the post-trip weight, as my track record isn’t great in this department. Bike riding usually makes me very hungry.

My sister Ellen helped me get started on Day 2.
My sister Ellen helped me get started on Day 2.

Follow my Seattle-Vancouver loop 2014

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Before leaving on this bike tour, my son Eli kindly helped his old man craft some code to integrate geotagged Flickr photos onto a map with a blue line to trace the route. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting, Eli, which code-fanatics can view on GitHub. My job is to improve the map appearance and interactivity during this trip, so expect to see some changes (and there’s always the possibility that I’ll accidentally break the darn thing). Scroll around the map below OR click here to view the full-screen version.

See also additional posts I wrote on this bike tour:

A Northwest adventure begins

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My niece Cece and nephew Freddy help me set off on my bike tour.
My niece Cece and nephew Freddy help launch my ride.

Today begins my Northwest bike tour. I left Seattle on my fully-loaded rig and will be pedaling for the next three weeks. Exactly where? That’s to be decided. For the first leg of this trip I’m headed north to Vancouver, British Columbia, then ride the ferry to Victoria to circle back to Washington state. If all goes well, then I’ll head south to the Oregon coast. But the best part about this trip is that I’m not following any set schedule. It’s a delightfully odd feeling for a guy whose sisters nicknamed him “planner boy” to go wandering on a bike. Many thanks to my partner Beth for allowing me to head off on this cycling adventure, and to my sisters Kris and Ellen for hosting my family in Seattle the week before my trip began.

Gasworks Park: one of my favorite views of Seattle.
Gasworks Park: one of my favorite views of Seattle.